Posted Jun 29 2010 3:40PM
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Rod Thorn is stepping down as president of the New Jersey Nets. But he's going out with a bang.
Less than 24 hours after finally confirming that he has just a few weeks left on the job, Thorn pulled off a trade to give the Nets more cap space for the free agency bonanza that gets under way Thursday morning.
In a trade announced Tuesday afternoon, the Nets have sent Yi Jianlian to Washington for Quinton Ross, giving New Jersey an additional $2.9 million to pay free agents. Assuming a salary cap of $56.1 million, the Nets will have $30 million of space, which isn't quite enough to pay two max free agents, but is more than the Chicago Bulls ($29.2 million) and Miami Heat ($27.3 million assuming they sign Dwyane Wade to a maximum deal) have. Only the New York Knicks ($34.1 million) have more.
If LeBron James and Chris Bosh want to join forces in Newark (and later Brooklyn) with Devin Harris and Brook Lopez, the Nets can make it happen. They have new owner Mikhail Prokhorov, ready to sell players on his global vision. They have a new arena under construction in James' favorite borough of New York. They have a coach, Avery Johnson, with the best winning percentage in NBA history. And they have a young center with a world of potential.
They just don't have Thorn after July 15.
After suffering through a 12-70 season, the Nets' president is leaving just when the going was about to get good again. And the timing of it is one of the reasons his decision might look a little fishy.
"I just think it's time," he said Tuesday, after the Nets introduced their two first-round Draft picks, Derrick Favors and Damion James. "You have gut reactions to things over the course of time. I trust my instincts and I think that it's just time. I think some new direction with some fresh people will be very good for this franchise."
Thorn is 69 years old. And there's no doubt that the last year took a toll on him. His team had one of the worst records in NBA history. He had to fire a coach, Lawrence Frank, for whom he had great respect. And he lost both of his parents.
But Thorn says that, at this point, he's not retiring from basketball, just stepping down.
There may be some thought that Thorn isn't happy with the team's new ownership, or that the new ownership isn't happy with him. But there's no substantive evidence that supports either of those theories. Thorn has been side-stepping questions about his job status since before Prokhorov officially took over. And if Prokhorov wanted someone else to run his team, Thorn would have been gone more than a month ago.
Prokhorov and his advisors will conduct the search, already under way, for Thorn's replacement. And the current president will have a role in the decision.
"I've been asked for input," Thorn said, "but our owners are very into what transpires in the NBA and who is or who should be candidates for this particular position. They're very well informed."
And he doesn't believe that the upcoming transition at the top will hurt the Nets' chances when it comes to luring free agents.
"I certainly hope it won't have any effect at all," Thorn said. "I'm sure it won't."
Still on the job for at least another couple of weeks, Thorn will be part of the Nets' team that meets with free agents starting Thursday. In addition to selling them on the idea of turning around a 12-70 team, he has to convince them that the franchise will be in good hands after he's gone.
Though he's made some mistakes over the years, he has a great reputation around the league. Johnson says that Thorn is one of the biggest reasons he took the job with the Nets, but believes that the team is still on the right path.
"We just have to move forward," Johnson said. "At the end of the day, Mikhail Prokhorov is the owner. He's really come in with a lot of energy and he's setting the tone for where he wants to take this team. I'm on board as the coach and I would love to have Rod stick around, but if he's made the decision to move on, then we have to adjust. We still have a lot of work ahead of us."
Thorn, who has guided the Nets for the past 10 years, believes he's saying goodbye at the right time, leaving the franchise in a position of strength.
"I've been around a long time and have been very fortunate to have been in several situations that were very positive," he said. "And that's how I look at this. It's been a very positive situation for me for the time I've been here. It's not over yet, so I still have work to do."
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